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Jan 14, 2011 1:45 PM by Carina Corral

Record low teen birth rates raise birth control debate

Should teenagers be given birth control without their parents' consent?

In 2009, the state's teen birth rate hit an all time low. The same is true in San Luis Obispo County, where in 2009 there were 170 teen births, which is a 21 percent decrease from 2008.

In Santa Barbara County, the same number of teens, 685, gave birth in that time period.

HealthWorks in San Luis Obispo attributed the decline to birth control for teenagers.

Before Ginny Harris worked at HealthWorks, she was a patient. "I came here just to get on birth control," Medical Assistant Ginny Harris.

She first came here when she was 18-years-old as a Cal Poly freshman because it was easier than going through her insurance.

Many high school teens come here in search of the same thing, but because it is easier than going to their parents.

"I don't care if they have parental approval or not because I would rather them get birth control... than get pregnant," said Harris.

They are allowed to hand out birth control to minors without parental approval through a state-funded, reproductive health care program called F-PACT that was created in 19-97.

"It was specifically created for teens to bring the pregnancy rate down. At that time there was a pregnancy rate that was coming down some, but we had been the state with the highest pregnancy rate in teens," said Donella Jenkins, the medical director of HealthWorks.

The state program is credited with averting nearly 300,000 unintended pregnancies in 2007, 27 percent of them teens.

There are those, though, who do not agree with it.

"Parents should be involved in all of the major decisions of a teenager or a child that they are raising," said Karen Bull, the director of CareNet in Santa Maria that is part of a nationwide network of pregnancy centers. It also helps to prevent unplanned pregnancies, but in a different way.

"We've had girls thank us for our abstinence presentations in schools and say I never knew I could say 'no,'" said Bull.

Their paths are different, but their goal is the same: bringing an end to teen pregnancy.

U.C. San Francisco researchers said that in 2007 the F-PACT pact program saved tax payers almost $2 billion in what would have been the first two years of life of an averted pregnancy.

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